The general mission of naval fire support is to destroy, neutralize, or
suppress enemy targets that oppose our forces. Naval fire
support may be provided by naval gunfire and naval air power.
Usually, it is delivered in concert with supporting fires
from other arms.
The fire support system is made up of three distinct
components that function together to give the
commander the fire support he needs to accomplish his
mission. These three components are as follows:
The key to effective fire support is the force
commander's ability to bring these assets to bear on
the enemy in an integrated and coordinated manner.
The description of a gun as XXin/YYcal means that the gun has a bore diameter (ie the diameter of the shells) of XX inches, and that the length of the gun barrel is YY times the bore diameter. For example, a 5-inch / 54 caliber gun fires shells with a diameter of 5 inches and has a barrel length of 270 inches (5 x 54) or 22 feet 6 inches. Larger diameter shells have a larger volume that can be filled with explosive, yielding greater destructive power, while longer caliber guns have greater muzzle velocity and range.
Since 1992, when it retired the last of its battleships, the Navy's surface fire support capabilities have been limited to
5-inch/54 caliber guns and munitions that lack adequate range, accuracy, and lethality. Targeting and fire control are still
done manually, and the Navy acknowledges that the communications links between fire support ships and their
customers are inadequate. A growing threat from sea-skimming antiship missiles is forcing fire support ships to operate
at ever increasing ranges from shore, further limiting the utility of existing guns.
The Navy plans to address its surface fire support capability deficiencies in two phases, near- (scheduled completion by
fiscal year 2001) and long-term (time frame still being defined). During the near-term phase, the Navy is developing (1)
a modified version of the 5-inch gun currently used on surface combatant ships, (2) an extended range guided 5-inch
munition, and (3) a shipboard surface fire support warfare control system consisting of computer resources and
communication interfaces designed to automate battle management functions.
The variety of projectiles, powder
charges, and fuzes permits selection of optimum combinations
for the attack of targets. Fuzes, for example, can be set to
provide for air, surface, or subsurface detonation of rounds.
The high muzzle velocity and relatively flat
trajectory of the naval gun make it suitable for direct fire
or assault fire, particularly against materiel targets that
must be penetrated or destroyed and that present a vertical
face. The large volume of fire that can be delivered
in a relatively short time is a distinct advantage in
delivering neutralization fires. For example, the
5-inch/54-caliber gun has a rate of fire of 35 rounds per
minute at the maximum rate and 20 rounds per minute at the
The normal dispersion pattern is narrow in
deflection and long in range. Very close supporting fire can
be delivered when the GT line is parallel to the front line.
This pattern also permits effective coverage of such targets
as roads and runways when the GT line coincides with the long
axis of the target.
The relatively flat trajectory of naval
gunfire results in a large range probable error. Therefore,
the dispersion pattern of the naval gun is roughly
elliptical, with the long axis in the direction of fire.
Before selecting naval gunfire as the proper fire support
means, the FSCOORD must consider the GT line and its relation
to the forward line of own troops (FLOT).
The hydrographic conditions of the sea area in
which the naval gunfire ship must operate may be unfavorable.
It may cause undesirable firing positions or require firing
at longer ranges. The accuracy of naval gunfire
depends on the accuracy with which the position of the firing
ship has been fixed. Navigational aids, prominent terrain
features, or radar beacons emplaced on the shore may be used
to compensate for this limitation. Bad weather and poor visibility make
it difficult to determine the position of the ship by visual
means and reduce the observer's opportunities for locating
targets and adjusting fires. Bad weather also might force the
ship out to sea. If the ship is firing while under
way, the line of fire in relation to the frontline may
change. This could require cancellation of the fire mission,
because the inherent large range probable errors may endanger
The sole means of between ship and shore is
radio. Normally, several nets are established to control and
coordinate the support. Radio communications can be
interrupted by equipment limitations, enemy EW, and
unfavorable atmospheric conditions.
If the naval gunfire ship comes under enemy
surface, subsurface, and/or air attack, the ship may cancel
its fire mission with the ground forces and try to counter
this threat. The shore bombardment allowance varies
with the ship type (600 to 1,800 rounds). When the need
arises, remaining rounds will be held for self-defense of the
ship. The first priority of the ship is self-preservation. The ship
will interrupt its support mission if its survival is
threatened. This includes ammunition expenditure. Since naval
guns are, in addition to shore bombardment, used for ship or
fleet defense, the ship will keep a large percentage of its
magazine capacity for this contingency.
When naval fire support is available and the general tactical
situation permits its use, naval firepower can provide large
volumes of devastating, immediately available, and instantly
responsive fire support to combat forces operating near
coastal waters. These fires may be in support of amphibious
operations within range of naval aircraft and gunfire, but
they also may be made available to support land operations.
Naval gunfire ships are assigned one of two missions - direct
support or general support. Relationships between assigned
ships and supported ground force units are based on limited,
delegated responsibility. For example, a ship placed in
support provides the requested fire within its capability,
but ship positioning and method of delivery are at the
discretion of the ship captain. The supported ground force
unit selects the targets, the timing of fires on the targets,
and the adjustment of fires.
A ship in direct support (IX) of a specific
troop unit delivers both planned and call fires. Call fires
are to the ship what targets of opportunity are to artillery
units. A naval gunfire spotter with the supported unit
conducts and adjusts call fires. Call fires also may be
adjusted by a naval gunfire air spotter. Members of the air
and naval gunfire liaison company (ANGLICO) are specially
trained in conducting naval gunfire. However, the procedures
are simplified and standardized so that any trained
supporting arms observer can effectively adjust the fire of a
ship. Naval gunfire (NGF) DS is not the same as field
artillery (FA) DS. A direct support ship will respond to
calls for fire from units other than the supported unit when
ordered to do so by the fire support group commander, the
division naval gunfire officer, or the brigade NGLO.
General support (GS) missions are assigned
to ships supporting units of brigade size or larger. The
normal procedure is for the fires of the GS ship to be
adjusted by an aerial observer or for the liaison officer
(LO) to assign the fires of the ship to a battalion spotter
for fire missions. In the latter case, on completion of the
mission, the ship reverts to general support. Prearranged
fires are delivered in accordance with a schedule of fire
ANGLICO personnel are available to advise unit commanders
from company through division levels on how to best use the
naval air and gunfire support available to them. Liaison
personnel can give unit commanders and FSCOORDs information
on weapon ranges, ammunition effects, all-weather bombing
capabilities, and landing zone requirements.
The only US NGF weapon system available now is the
5-inch/54 found primarily on destroyers.
- Command, control, and communications (C3) systems,
facilities, and personnel required to manage fire
support and to direct those tactical and
technical/ actions needed to attack targets
quickly and effectively.
- Target acquisition systems needed to acquire
targets by reconnaissance, surveillance, and
devices. These systems include many individuals,
units, and resources on the battlefield that help
detect the to enemy.
- Weapons and ammunition to deliver the firepower
on the target according to the commander's battle
Sources and Resources
Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Saturday, December 12, 1998 7:17:49 AM